When I got my first lightweight bike and started cycling seriously in 1951, the name Tommy Godwin was well known to me. There was the amazing long distance cyclist I wrote of in my last article.
Then there was another unrelated Tommy Godwin who won medals in the Olympics just a few years earlier in 1948. However, in the ignorance of my youth I thought they were one and the same person.
It wasn’t until 1952 at age 16, when on the whim of two older cycling club members, I joined them on a ride from Luton, about 30 miles north of London, to Birmingham. A round trip of 180 miles; the reason, to visit Tommy Godwin’s bike shop.
They may have mentioned the shop was in Birmingham, but as a naive youngster it never occurred to me that this was a whole different part of the country.
When we got to Tommy’s shop in Birmingham, it was not just the man that impressed me, or the amazing array of lightweight bike equipment, it was his "Brummie" accent.*
A Brummie is a native of Birmingham, England, and this was the first time I had ventured so far from home. Far enough that people there spoke in a totally different dialect.
It wasn't until I was on the ride home, (On the same day incidentally.) I mentioned Tommy Godwin’s One Year Mileage Record; I then learned this was a different Tommy Godwin. This was track cyclist and Olympic medalist Tommy Godwin.
Years later, in the late 1960s, I would move to Worcester, just south of Birmingham. I would return to Tommy Godwin’s shop, and meet him again on several occasions.
Now forward to the present time and in researching for this article I learned that Tommy Godwin was actually born in America; in Connecticut to be precise. (That is if I can trust Wikipedia.)
He never spoke of this, and must have went over to England at a very early age, because I always considered him a Brummie born and bred.
The success of British cycling, particularly on the track, can be traced back directly to Tommy Godwin. A top track rider of his day; Godwin was National Sprint Campion in 1948.
He also won two bronze medals in the Olympics, held in London that same year; one in the Team Pursuit, one in the individual Kilometer Time Trial. The picture above shows Tommy in recent years with his two Olympic medals.
Born in 1920, he will be one of the ambassadors at the next Olympics in London, to be held in 2012. He is at this time president of the Solihull Cycling Club in the West Midlands of the UK.
In 1936 Tommy Godwin went to work for BSA, a large bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer in Birmingham.
The picture right shows a young Tommy on a track bike he built himself at the BSA factory.
In 1950, Godwin opened his own retail bike shop on Silver Street, in Kings Heath, Birmingham. He also built frames under his own name in the back of his shop
The shop became a Mecca for racing cyclists from the whole West Midlands area; it was one of the reasons why this region became such a hot bed for bicycle racing.
After running his business all day, Tommy would be coaching young local riders in the evening and weekends. Later in 1963, this lead to Godwin becoming the first paid British National Coach.
One youngster who was bitten by the bike racing bug at Tommy’s shop, was a young Michael Bennett, who under Godwin’s tutelage went on to win medals in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. Graham Webb who became World Road Champion in 1967, is another of Godwin’s protégés.
Michael Bennett is now one of the driving forces behind the current crop of British riders. He was the main man in the organizing of the depart stage of the Tour de France when it started from London a few years back.
Tommy Godwin and his bike shop, which he ran until he retired in 1986, was a very important part of Britain’s cycling history.
The success of his shop was due to his success as a track cyclist. The shop and Tommy’s coaching was the reason the area produced so many great riders.
My frame building business was in Worcester just 25 miles south of Birmingham; this in turn lead to my initial success as a framebuilder, because there were so many World Class riders to draw from as customers for my frames.
We can all thank Tommy Godwin for what he has done, and continues to do for the sport of cycling.
If anyone reading this knows how to contact Tommy Godwin, (Maybe someone in the Solihull Club.) I would ask him today, was he really born in Connecticut, and did he ever meet his namesake, the other Tommy Godwin?